After six months in office, George W. Bush has gained a reputation abroad as a distinctly, sometimes defiantly, nonglobal president.
He doesn't like many pivotal international treaties, past or present, designed to regulate everything from the world's deadliest weapons to the health of the environment. He prefers international institutions to be forums to discuss problems, not to craft common principles for the future. And, according to a wide cross-section of U.S. and foreign analysts, he behaves as if America's preeminent power entitles it to act at will--and unchallenged.
The most profound single difference in U.S. foreign policy under Bush is his attitude toward globalization. While he has lavishly praised the unfettered markets associated with globalization, Bush is loath to accept any new obligations that being a citizen of the world may demand, analysts agree.
"No major power is more reticent about globalization than the United States under Bush. Nor is any country doing more to undermine the multilateral approach to issues of global concern than the United States today," said Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine in Washington.
The image was cemented at the annual Group of 8 gathering here in Genoa. While the United States played a key role in launching a global fund for HIV and AIDS, the more striking impression to come out of the summit was that of Bush's unswerving stance, under intense pressure from America's closest allies, about climate change.
The president firmly resisted the individual and collective appeals of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, a treaty designed to cut emissions of "greenhouse gases."
Bush has also talked about abandoning the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty; balked at a pact to form an International Criminal Court; and pledged to veto the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if the Democrats try to bring it up for a vote again in the Senate.
The United States was also behind the watering down of a U.N. resolution, agreed to on Saturday, to curb small-arms trafficking, which fuels tribal, ethnic and factional fighting, particularly in Africa and Asia. "The American delegation . . . basically took the position of the National Rifle Assn., which was not very positively perceived. I don't know another single government on Earth that understands the U.S. position on this very important issue," one European envoy said.
Last week, just as Bush was departing for Europe, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) charged that the president's foreign policy is eroding U.S. influence in the world. On Sunday, Daschle declined to apologize for his statements, although he conceded that he might have made the comments at a more opportune moment.
"I stand by it. No apology," Daschle said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I would have probably picked a little different time to say them, but nonetheless I strongly believe that that is a concern."
Said one European official who asked to remain anonymous, "President Bush is sending very negative signals that the United States does not want to be committed, does not want to be involved. All this creates the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the United States is in retreat, that it's not interested in what the rest of the world is saying, and that it's ultimately determined to reject the multilateral agreements that are the backbone of the new world order after the Cold War."
The perception of America's role in globalization has changed dramatically since last year's G-8 summit in Okinawa, Japan, when President Clinton was widely seen as the leading global activist.
"Clinton increasingly saw the G-8 as a vehicle to deal with the new transnational issues that there were not existing mechanisms in the international system to deal with, problems like international crime, terrorism, money laundering. So he began to use the G-8 as a vehicle to create new institutions or quasi-institutions," said James Steinberg, deputy national security advisor in the second Clinton term.
The Bush administration does not dispute its different approach to the G-8.
"We really don't believe the world needs another permanent standing organization. There are a lot of them, and the members of the G-8 are interlocked and networked in most of those international organizations," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters on the eve of the summit. To have a staff to carry out the G-8 decisions or to create enforcement mechanisms would be "superfluous," she said.
Instead, the Bush White House sees the G-8 as a place for leaders to get together and talk. Other groups, from the World Bank to the United Nations, should be the bodies to act, it contends.
Two factors beyond his control may shape Bush's attitude on globalization. The first is the worldwide economic slump.
"It was easier to promote globalization when the Dow was at 11,000 and it looked as if there was no end in sight. Today, as the world is bracing for a long period of recession or stagnation, the enthusiasm for globalization has waned because it hasn't provided," Naim said.
"Some are instead questioning whether free trade, open markets and the Internet really do guarantee prosperity or a better life. Globalization is a bet, and a bet needs to be fueled by optimism."
The second factor is America's unique status at the beginning of the 21st century. "The United States is the last old-fashioned nation-state in the world in any sense, and it still operates alone. In contrast, Europe is now made up of transnational states. . . . They're used to working together, to alignments and cooperation," said Christopher Coker, a specialist in international relations at the London School of Economics.
Although allies still have doubts about Bush policies, the good news for the president in Genoa was that his personal image has improved.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Sunday that Bush "enjoyed a great deal of personal success" at the summit.
"Everyone appreciated his spontaneity, his sincerity and his direct way of saying things. It is good to deal with someone who when he says yes it's yes and when he says no it's no. . . . He conquered the other leaders with his frank, cordial and simpatico manner," Berlusconi said.
Added a French official, "The language in the French and world press that Bush is basically stupid is now gone. American comics still make him the butt of jokes, but that's not the case in Europe anymore."
Whatever his preferences or political instincts, Bush eventually will have to embrace globalization, analysts say.
"It's not an option that can or can't be picked. Globalization can be delayed. It can be derided. But it's out there to stay," Naim said.
Times staff writers Richard Boudreaux in Genoa and Janet Hook in Washington contributed to this report.
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